Sunday, May 01, 2011

Honourable Mention: Cast a Deadly Spell

Going back to 1991, this Martin Campbell directed flick could almost be described as the anti-Dresden Files in that Harry Dresden was a PI wizard in a world were magic was hidden and, in this 1940s noir styled world, magic is commonplace and only PI H Philip Lovecraft (Fred Ward) – the name, of course, is referential but also significant – never uses magic.

This is a world where virgins hunt unicorns, zombies are used as cheap labour, gargoyles are spies and goons and the hunt is on for the Necronomicon. Lovecraft is hired by Amos Hackshaw (David Warner, Spider-man, Waxwork, From Beyond the Grave, and I was a Teenage Vampire) to track the book down, as it has been stolen from his collection. He only has two days as Hackshaw is ‘giving a lecture’ and the book is the centrepiece of the presentation.

Julianne Moore as Connie
Of course, there is a dame, there always is. In this case she comes in the form of Connie (Julianne Moore), a dame who left Lovecraft for his crooked ex-partner, Bordon (Clancy Brown). There are noir-voiceovers, magic aplenty, voodoo curses, demons from the lowest pits of Hell, even a werewolf being questioned on the night of a full moon. So… vampires?

The vampiric element is a real ‘blink and you miss it’ moment. Lovecraft visits his old precinct – summoned in by Det. Bradbury (Charles Hallahan). In a cell there are some ladies of the night. One of them looks over to Lovecraft, as he waits to see Bradbury, growls and produces fangs. Just so we know for certain she regurgitates a trickle of blood. In the next scene Bradbury mentions having vampires in West Hollywood.

Fred Ward as Lovecraft
The film is great fun, the combination of the supernatural and the noir actually works rather well and Ward plays a great gumshoe. If I had a complaint it’s that, for fans of Lovecraft (the writer) it just isn’t dark enough. Sure there are bad things going on but the atmosphere of menace isn’t there (indeed some parts, like the gremlins, are just plain cutesy). Moments of comedy, though sly, further errode any menace. Given that Yog-Sothoth makes an appearance, none of the surviving witnesses end up rocking in an asylum. That aside, as I said, the concept itself is excellent and the film works for what it is.

A fleeting visitation then, a few seconds long at the most. The imdb page is here.


Derek Tatum said...

I've always wondered if "Cast a Deadly Spell" had an influence on modern urban fantasy. I watched it when it aired in 1991, and it was the first time I had seen a world where supernatural beings lived openly. And, of course, Lovecraft was a detective, a popular calling in urban fantasy.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

With hindesight it may have been.

The WFRR elements were obvious, with the noir and Julianne Moore actually reminded me of Jessica Rabbit (a little bit).

However the entire magic society aspects were there in prototype and, as I said in the article, there was almost an anti-dresden aspect to it (or dresden in negative)

Evan said...

This is one of the all-time coolest movies that no remembers. I'm so glad I came across this blog post. I looooove this movie.

And I can totally see that Jessica Rabbit connection.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Evan, cheers for the comment